An overlooked gem worth watching.
When it comes to manga artist, screenwriter & film director Katsuhiro Otomo, it’s important to remember that because of Akira it managed to gain a huge impact on western audiences and set the bar high on Anime and Manga. Despite this Otomo’s involvement aside from the few projects in the industry is very small when you see the big impact that got him started, as a designer however he’s managed to leave an impression on works that while not a director it’s clear to see the style he has and how people have managed to use it in other works. Although despite a flawed execution it stands out because of how unique it is, that being Freedom Project.
Freedom Project (or known as Freedom) takes place in the year 2041, where mankind has left the earth and have emigrated in space colonies on the moon, one of them being Republic Eden. One of the inhabitants named Takeru, a young boy living in Republic Eden spends his time taking part in hover craft races against the occasional rival gangs living in the colony. When he breaks a law and he is sentenced to community service on the outside of the dome, once there he uncovers a capsule containing artefacts and photographs, one photograph of a girl with a message saying “We are safe, is anybody there?” After several attempts to find out about the girl in the photo, and the location being unsuccessful due information being labelled as Forbidden by Eden, Takeru and his friends Biz (Bismarck) & Kazuma uncover information about earth from Alan, a senior member Freedom living in the subterranean levels of Eden's domes. After gaining access to a moon rover with sufficient range to get a view of Earth, as it appears Earth is blue and it appears to have recovered from the disaster that it was believed to have been through where the surface of the planet was destroyed, along with all civilization that lived there. After a troubling attempt, Takeru and his friend Biz successfully leave the moon on an old escape rocket to the Earth leaving Takeru in the hands of Edens authorities, once landing there they discover that the planet despite being left in ruin is abundant and full of life from its people and what hope they have managed to cling onto. So Takeru begins his journey to see more of the Earth, but at the same time learn about Republic Eden’s origins behind the lies they have told.
Freedom Project as an anime has an interesting history; the show itself is a promotional project for Nissen Cup Noodles as part of their 35th Anniversary. The show’s promotion for the product was featured in adverts, banners, posters and concept art with characters eating the noodles as well as having the Nissen Logo distributed through the advertising, with a very sucsessful publicity as well as contribution from Katsuhiro Otomo the series was very well received. The show’s story however I think stands out because of its theme, that theme is Freedom but also how it ties into the importance of space exploration.
When we first see the lifestyle of the colonies on the moon it’s very clear that they have kept Earth and all facts about it concealed from the general public for their own safety of the risk of how earth was able to destroy itself with their technology they could easily do it to Republic Eden, for their own safety they are willing to keep as much about the earth a secret. The idea of a supreme reigning hierarchy that everyone lives in an organized and strict society and the idea of Freedom is looked down upon because of what it might bring for Eden, However because of the determination of the character of Takeru the idea of defying a powerful security to accomplish a very simple goal shows the start of how a rebellion can start, then grow for people who want to experience the taste of Freedom themselves.
The characters of Freedom Project are very simple in description based on their quirks and tropes. The main characters Takeru comes across as warm, adventurous with a cheerful and positive personality but with a flaw that he is usually shy around girls and would stumble on what to say, that said Takeru is a likeable lead with a very clear goal in mind that makes him someone you want to root for. Kazuma is easily an analog for Kaneda from Akira because of his appearance; attitude and body language as the eventual rivalry build up with Takeru, however despite that he remains to calm and level-headed at times. Biz suffers the trope of being the typical introverted character who usually gets sucked into the adventure started by the main character, however his usefulness in the show is presented through his mechanic skills as well as being a likeable character to see develop through the show’s journey. Then there’s the character of Ao, the girl from the photo that Takeru found. The interaction between Ao and Takeru at first seems a little awkward largly because of how Takeru presents himself, but as the show builds we see the bond grow abit stronger which thankfully the show doesn’t ruin by giving us an eventual love cliché but because of how Earth has been doing that we see what impact she will have on Republic Eden.
Production for this show is unique but a rather flawed representation. Animated by Sunrise (Cowboy Bebop, the Gundam series, Witch Hunter Robin etc.) the animation for this show is a weird but interesting mix for having Cel-shaded CG animation for the characters that allow them to emote and move in rather over exaggerated ways, with the character designs done by Otomo you can tell that the style sticks a little too close to what was shown for characters in works such as Akira. The flaw of the CG animation is how the characters look and behave a little too over the top for certain scenes, as well as how facially everything looks limited and badly squashed in by how the characters are build. What also comes across as a flaw because of the designs of the characters, how crowds of people that are animated in traditional animation are not designed by Otomo However despite the CG animation being a slight draw-back, the set design and mechanical design for this show stands as highly in how detailed everything appears as well as how huge the world is in this show. Everything from the cities on the moon colonies to the ruins on earth left behind from past cities such as New York and Las Vegas really drop you into post-apocalyptic but very positively fuelled planet earth. What also stands out well for this in the writing done by Dai Satō (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: SAC, Wolf’s Rain), because of the show’s theme of oppression and freedom it’s told well in 7 quick to the point episodes and although the predictability of some of the tropes used in anime are often used here it manages to tell a pretty good story while isn’t as ground-breaking as Sato’s past works but it does what it needs to do.
Audio-wise Freedom Project offers quite a handful. The opening theme song “This is Love” by pop singer Utada Hikaru (best known for her musical contribution to the Kingdom Hearts series) is actually a very good opening to use, while the song itself was not written specifically for this it was used throughout the Nissen Cup Noodle campaign and it sets the tone just right for the show. The soundtrack by Yoshihiro Ike (Sonic X, Kai Doh Maru, Ergo Proxy) while being nothing too memorable is tense and rather exciting to listen to when characters are in difficult situations or when characters are being emotional. Almost too emotional as the score can really go up too much in the visual representation and yet somehow it is still well held together in this.
For the English dub done by NYAV Post, which is a dubbing studio based in New York it has it’s own voice talents but manages to pull some from the LA side of anime voice acting. Michael Sinterniklaas as Takeru sounds just abit too past the pitch of excitement but he manages to give a good performance and provide some humorous (but forced) moments in the show, Robby Sharpe as Biz plays the character as he is written. Incredibly introverted and always scared of new things but he manages to come out with making the character likable. Johnny Yong Bosch as Kazuma is a good fit for a character who at times can be emotional but is usually very calm and mature and always manages to make the character a little too smug. Stephanie Sheh as Ao isn’t anything that special as she plays the character as a kind, but strong female presence and reinforces that idea of hope for the character to push out and use. Additional voices such as Greg Abbey, William Fredrick Knight, Dan Green, Kyle Hebert, Marc Diraison, J. David Brimmer, JB Blanc etc bring some rather nice flow in the characters they play but manage to make the cast stick with the story that this show is running with.
Overall Freedom Project isn’t a masterpiece by any definition due to it’s obvious use of product placement of Nissen, the awkward looking CG animation as well as some of the awkward behaviour of the characters in the show makes everything feel slightly distracting to take in. However the theme behind this show of the idea of controlling society while not being too threatening and use of breaking free to explore and go where no man has gone before is demonstrated very well in this with likeable characters that are easy to root for and fun to see develop. With a quick to the point story and the genre of Sci-Fi in this being lighter and softer, it manages to discuss an important and philosophical topic…What is Freedom?
An overlooked gem worth watching.
Sami Sadek is a lifelong Transformers and Anime fan, and can often be found propping up bars or appearing in the background of Auto Assembly vids. He has also talks on Youtube, Tumbls on Tumblr, Tweets on Twitter, doodles on Deviantart and is a regular co-host on this very site's Cyberritz. He has never had a swordfight atop a church whilst a crow watches. Honest.